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Perseverance takes the first sample of an ancient river on Mars

A photograph of Perseverance drilling an ancient river on Mars

Climbing Jezero Crater's Delta and Uncovering Carbonate-Rich Rocks to Unravel Mars' Ancient Past

NASA’s Perseverance rover continues to unveil the geological history of Mars as it collects samples from various environments in Jezero Crater, providing valuable insights into the Red Planet’s past climate and potential ancient life. Now, a recently uploaded video by NASA shows the Perseverance rover drilling an ancient riverbed on Mars.

Perseverance Explores Jezero Crater’s Delta

On March 30, NASA’s Perseverance rover collected its first sample in the newest science campaign, focusing on the top of Jezero Crater’s delta. The rover has now gathered 19 samples and three witness tubes, with 10 tubes recently deposited as a backup cache on Mars as part of the NASA-ESA Mars Sample Return campaign.

Unlocking Mars’ Past Through Earth-Based Labs

By studying Martian samples with advanced lab equipment on Earth, scientists aim to search for signs of ancient microbial life and better comprehend Mars’ water cycle that has shaped the planet’s surface and interior.

Perseverance drills an ancient river on Mars

The latest sample, the Perseverance rover cored from a rock named “Berea,” is the mission’s 16th cored rock sample, accompanied by samples of regolith and Mars’ atmosphere. The science team believes Berea formed from rock deposits carried downstream by an ancient river, potentially originating from an area beyond Jezero Crater.

Carbonate-Rich Rocks and Preserved Life

The second reason for the team’s excitement about Berea is its rich carbonate content. Carbonate rocks on Earth have a propensity for preserving fossilized lifeforms. If biosignatures are present in this part of Jezero Crater, rocks like Berea could potentially reveal their secrets.

Deciphering Mars’ Ancient Climate

Understanding Mars’ past climate when the area was covered with liquid water remains a puzzle. Carbonates form through chemical interactions in liquid water and can offer scientists a long-term record of climate changes. Analyzing the carbonate in Berea could help fill in the gaps.

Exploring Diverse Geological Environments

Perseverance’s project scientist, Ken Farley, highlights the rover’s mobility, enabling the collection of samples from varied geological environments like igneous samples, fine-grained sedimentary rocks, and now, coarse-grained sedimentary rocks. This diversity helps build a more comprehensive understanding of Jezero Crater’s ancient history.

Perseverance rover: Advancing Toward “Castell Henllys”

With the Berea sample securely stored, the rover will continue climbing Jezero’s sedimentary fan, heading toward the next bend in the dry riverbed, dubbed “Castell Henllys.”

The Perseverance rover’s Astrobiological Mission

A primary goal of Perseverance’s Mars mission is astrobiology, including caching samples that may contain traces of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize Mars’ geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration and becoming the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.

Future NASA-ESA Collaboration

Upcoming NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA, plan to send spacecraft to Mars to retrieve the sealed samples from the surface and bring them back to Earth for thorough analysis. This unprecedented collaboration between space agencies aims to unlock the mysteries of Mars’ geological past and explore the possibility of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.

By studying these samples in detail, scientists hope to deepen our understanding of Mars’ history and potentially pave the way for future manned missions to our neighboring planet.

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